The current Jeep Wrangler has been with us since the summer of 2006 when it replaced the TJ, and while it has received many updates throughout its decade-long tenure―the most notable being the much more advanced 3.6L Pentastar V6 and optional 5-speed automatic transmission in 2012―it still sports the same iconic design.
Of course, that 5-speed autobox is hardly state-of-the-art when compared to the 6-, 8-, and 9-speed units currently available across FCA’s multi-brand lineup, but it’s a reliable transmission that’s proven rugged enough to endure all the rocks, sand, snow, water, and mud Jeep off-roaders can throw at it. Incidentally, a 6-speed manual has been the standard gearbox since this model’s inception, and the transmission of choice for 4x4 purists.
Trims and equipment
This Sport S tester sits just above the base Jeep Wrangler Sport, but below the Willys Wheeler, Sahara, Rubicon, and 75th Anniversary Edition models, not to mention the longer-wheelbase, 4-door Unlimited body style that comes in all those trim levels except the base Sport.
Here, 17” alloy wheels on 255/75R17 OWL on/off-road rubber replace the standard 16” steel rims, while the upgrade list goes on to add deep-tint glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a chrome and leather shift knob, air conditioning, and satellite radio for a $5,450 extra over the regular Sport―total of $33,145 plus freight and fees.
That said, my tester also featured the $1,495 optional automatic transmission, the $1,000 Power Convenience Group that added remote entry with power locks, power windows, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with an integrated reading lamp, and a security alarm; the $525 Connected Group that adds hands-free communication with voice recognition and Bluetooth streaming, a 3.5” multi-information display, a remote USB port, and a tire pressure monitoring system; $200 tubular side steps; $775 6.5” touchscreen infotainment; $695 Alpine audio with nine speakers including an all-weather sub; $400 front-seat side-thorax airbags; plus no-cost Hydro Blue Pearl paint for a final tally of $36,710.
While nicely equipped, Jeep could’ve added a lot more to this Sport S model, although the only extra I’d be certain to include in mine is the hardtop for $1,150, because it makes the Jeep Wrangler a better year-round companion and allows easier loading into the cargo compartment. Truly, unzipping the rear window to load in taller items is almost as annoying as trying to zip it back up again.
I should point out that this upgraded Sport S model gets most everything that comes standard with the lower Sport trim, too: a Sunrider soft top, fog lamps, tow hooks front and rear, Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4WD, skid plates under the fuel tank and transfer case, a Dana 30 solid front axle and Dana 44 heavy-duty rear axle, a 3.21 rear axle ratio, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, Uconnect infotainment with 8-speaker audio, a full-length floor console, Jeep’s padded “Sport Bar” roll bar with integrated speakers, a rear bench that tumbles up against the front seatbacks for a flat loading floor, a wash-out interior with removable carpets and drain plugs, etc.
The aforementioned V6 is incredibly smooth, impressively potent, and even sounds great. FCA uses it in most Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep products, from minivans and pickup trucks to the automaker’s luxury sedans and numerous SUVs. It’s the only engine available in the Wrangler, and it makes a healthy 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. While it gets refinements such as an acoustic engine cover to reduce noise, most Wrangler fans will cheer louder for its optimized upper intake airflow that improves overall thrust, equal-length downpipes for better low- and mid-range torque response, and high-mounted, rear-facing alternator for water fording.
The 5-speed autobox suits the Wrangler well, delivering smooth shifts and absolutely no hunting around for the right gear, but certainly more forward gears would improve fuel economy. Its combined city/highway rating of 12.5L/100km is a steep number for a compact SUV, albeit a rugged and capable one.
The Jeep Wrangler’s heavy weight makes for a surprisingly comfortable ride, or maybe it has more to do with engineering refinements this model has benefited from over the past decade. If you haven’t been at the wheel of a Wrangler since its TJ days, or heaven forbid the old YJ or CJ, you’re in for a significant shock. In fact, I don’t remember any previous versions being so compliant over bumps and managing curves as confidently as this most recent example. Of course, if you select a Wrangler Rubicon or one of the other more intensely off-road tuned models, you’ll get roughed up a bit more, but those wanting enhanced 4x4 capability won’t care one iota.
Now that we’re talking livability, I’ll give it two thumbs up for rear access via the front passenger’s seat that not only slides fairly far forward, but also pops upwards to impede as little as possible. This makes the climb rearward quite easy, although when passengers in the back are seated comfortably you’ll need to reset the front passenger’s seatback rake manually as it doesn’t memorize where it was before.
As for cargo, other than the time-consuming zipper process, my only complaint is a rear door that swings out perfectly for curbside access in the U.K. or Japan, but not here. I’ve griped about this before, and Jeep said they wouldn’t change it due to tradition, which leaves loading when parallel parked a chore.
But come on, does Jeep truly care that much about tradition? After all, unrefined powertrains, a bone-jarring ride, and crappy interiors used to be Jeep tradition, too, and thankfully all have been abandoned to the past. This latest Wrangler shows even more improvement thanks to particularly nice upholstery and richer-looking carpets.
My tester’s optional infotainment system featured Jeep’s usual colour touchscreen with go-to buttons down each side, including integrated USB and aux plugs. It’s a very good system that’s easy to read and use, while the audio was good for a just-above-base model. The effective HVAC system, meanwhile, uses a simple manual interface incorporating three large rotating knobs that look good, are well put together, and can be used with winter gloves.
The power mirror toggle is easy to reach without moving within your seat, but the centrally mounted power window switches are not as convenient as the segment’s usual door panel placement, although this is understandable being that the doors are removable.
Lastly, the soft top was surprisingly quiet considering it’s not insulated, plus the plastic side and rear windows almost look like glass. Then again, there’s no washer or wiper to clean the latter, and of course no rear defog. Jeep will happily rectify this problem with the aforementioned hardtop, or you can choose both tops for a best of both worlds scenario.
Ultimately, the 2016 Jeep Wrangler is a fun, comfortable, and capable SUV around town or on the highway, but if you seize the opportunity to engage the wild, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best 4x4s money can buy. I’ve driven it in both regular and long-wheelbase configurations, trekking over some of the most formidable “roads” North America has to offer, and I’ve come out the other side grinning in all-conquering, dust-eating, mud-strewn satisfaction.
With its classic good looks, versatile capability, and surprising refinement, there’s no better 4x4-capable SUV for the money than the Jeep Wrangler.